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Priorities, character & doctrine underscored at Pastors’ Conference

PHOENIX (BP)–Preachers at the 2003 Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference exhorted colleagues and lay leaders to maintain right priorities and godly character and to uphold biblical doctrine amid moral erosion plaguing the nation’s families and its churches.

The June 15-16 conference inside the Phoenix Civic Plaza culminated in a Monday evening “Kingdom Family Rally” highlighting “seven pillars of a Kingdom family.”

The Pastors’ Conference elected three officers unopposed, including a new president, Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., who succeeds Mac Brunson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas. Brian Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church in Van Buren, Ark., was elected as vice president, while Hal Kitchens, pastor of First Baptist Church in Eustis, Fla., was re-elected as secretary-treasurer.

During Sunday’s opening session, noted Christian apologist Josh McDowell warned parents to fear more what their kids are tempted to believe than what they are tempted to do.

Values drive behavior, he said, but beliefs form those values. If youth lack a Bible-based truth system their behavior suffers, he said, lamenting that most evangelical youth deny the reality of absolute truth.

“We have separated truth from relationships,” McDowell said of the contemporary church, explaining that new members are asked “truth-related questions” about basic doctrine but rarely how those beliefs stir compassion for the poor or change their approach to personal relationships.

“All truth was given for the context of relationships,” McDowell said. “Truth without relationship leads to rejection of the truth.”

McDowell said rational apologetics must be retooled with relational applications to win the hearts and minds of today’s youth.

Howard Hendricks, chairman of Dallas Theological Seminary’s Center for Christian Leadership and a distinguished professor there, warned pastors, “If your Christianity doesn’t work at home, it doesn’t work. Don’t export it.”

Hendricks used the prophet Nehemiah as a model for leaders forging “winning teams” in marriage, family and ministry.

Scripture shows that because Nehemiah succeeded in unifying the priests, princes and people for building the Jerusalem wall and skillfully coordinated the work, they built it in 52 days, Hendricks recounted.

Effective ministry and effective teams hinge on right priorities, he said, noting that his priorities, respectively, are personal integrity, followed by marital intimacy, parental responsibility and professional competency.

“If you have no character, what exactly do you bring to your marriage?” he asked. And if one does not add marital intimacy and parental responsibility to character, “precisely what do I have to bring to my ministry?”

Hendricks closed by urging that more marriages be held up as models in the church, noting that others are watching pastors’ families “like a hawk.”

Jerry Vines, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., rousingly proclaimed his belief in Christ’s sole ability to save and Christianity’s exclusive claim to religious truth.

Vines’ comments at last year’s conference that Muslim prophet Muhammad was “demon possessed” and a “pedophile” for betrothing a 6-year-old girl prompted NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw to say Vines was “preaching hate.”

While preaching on the Genesis 5 account of Enoch’s life and translation into the presence of God, Vines unfolded and read a prepared statement.

“I’m going to give all of you media what you came for, and I’m going to say it slowly, so even Tom Brokaw can get it,” Vines said. “All religions are not the same. All religions are not equally true. There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved except the name of Jesus.”

Most of those attending stood to applaud.

In his sermon, Vines said Enoch is a model for walking with God, not because he started his life in devotion, but because his walk progressed to the point of being translated to heaven.

Criswell College professor Ergun Caner, a former Muslim, delivered an impassioned sermon around the question, “Is God a man or a woman?”

Political correctness has confused the issue, and male-female questions have missed the biblical teaching of God’s nature, Caner said. God is spirit, he said, but He relates to believers as “Father.”

The language of Romans 8 signifies four areas that flow out of the “Father” language, Caner said. God binds Christians together, bathes them in His love, bequeaths them His inheritance and bears their burdens.

“We’ve got a Father,” he said, pointing out what unites Christians of various worship styles and denominations. “[We have] one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God. … [T]hat’s what we’ve got in common.”

Other speakers included:

— David Jeremiah, pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif. Jeremiah urged church leaders to pray fervently in the asking, seeking and knocking manner Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount. “We’re to continue bringing before Him the things that are on our heart,” Jeremiah noted. “God is serious about this.”

Don’t seek help “anywhere until you seek help from God,” he urged.

— Tommy Nelson, senior pastor of Denton (Texas) Church. Nelson offered a dozen ways pastors can survive the ministry, noting the importance of such basics as personal Bible reading, teaching the Word, meeting regularly with other ministers and committing time to family. Nelson also warned, “Beware of fatal attractions.”

— Chip Roberson, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Chesapeake, Va. Roberson warned pastors to guard against the dead flies that can ruin the sweet aroma of a godly life, as described in Nehemiah 10. When flies landed in the perfumers’ carefully crafted mixture in Old Testament times, the perfume’s aroma was ruined, Roberson explained. “That now is putrefied and ruined and good for nothing but to throw away. In the danger of an unguarded moment, that’s what happens as well.”

— Hank Williams, an Asheboro, N.C. evangelist. The first priority of spiritual leaders, he said, must be their families. “If you don’t have a [spiritually healthy] family,” he said, “you don’t have ministry.

— Dennis Swanberg, Christian humorist and author. Swanberg peppered his audience with a litany of home-spun anecdotes, driving home three points: If you live as a Christian, “you’re gonna laugh, you’re gonna love and you’re gonna live life without limits.” Swanberg advised pastors to “just be normal. You don’t need to be odd for God. Just be normal.”

— Johnny Hunt, pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church in Woodstock. Hunt challenged pastors and churches to build families and churches that “don’t leave the world the way we found it.” A successful ministry, he said, will see people changed by God and inspired to do His work.

— Ken Whitten, pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla. Whitten said pastors should beware of dangers that uniquely threaten their families.

“While there are high standards for preacher’s kids, the greatest thing we can tell them is, ‘I want you to be obedient because you are God’s kids, not because you are the pastor’s kids,'” Whitten said.

— Ted Traylor, who drew from Matthew 6:33-34 in lamenting the many pastors who have fallen mentally, physical and morally by neglecting their devotion to Christ. He said he is encouraged, however, by thousands more in the evangelical world who have remained faithful. “Pastors are not perfect and pastors’ homes are not perfect,” he acknowledged. Nevertheless: “Because Jesus is Lord, we can have victory in the pastor’s home.”
David Roach, Michael Foust, Mark Kelly, Dwayne Hastings, Gregory Tomlin, Gary Myers, Stacey Hamby contributed to this article.

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  • Jerry Pierce